Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners
Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners

Safety, security, natural light and views to nature were at the center of the design of the newly constructed Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. Glass and glazing were key in attaining this goal.

The elementary school was built in place of the demolished school that was the site of a 2012 mass shooting that took the lives of 20 students and six faculty. Opened this fall, the new 87,000 square-foot building uses a strategic application of glass throughout both the interior and exterior.

Alana Konefal of Svigals + Partners, one of the architects, says connection to nature is always part of the firm’s designs in the educational sector, and this project provided a great opportunity to incorporate this concept with glass “because of the beautiful sight that we were given.”

Svigals + Partners managing partner Jay Brotman adds that glass is “vitally important” to the success of a school’s learning environment. “Access to views and natural daylight has been proven to really boost learning rates,” he says. “From the very beginning we knew we wanted glass to play an important role in our design so we could maintain views to what is a beautiful forested landscape.”

Glass in the Design

Occupants entering the school’s light-filled main lobby are immediately met with a big view of a courtyard in the back, thanks to a curtainwall that represents the building’s biggest expanse of glass. The school features multiple curtainwalls, some of which include fall-themed colorful glass lites.

Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners
Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners

“The contrasts of colors and bringing them into this main, central space really creates a liveliness with colored patterns and as the sun moves across the sky,” says Brotman.

Interior storefront glazing allows students and faculty to see through to the various wings of the building—as well as areas such as the library and music room—and out to its surroundings. “We always wanted to feel we were connected to the outside,” says Konefal. Each of the four “fingers” of the building coming off what has been dubbed the building’s “Main Street” includes glazing that showcases each of the three courtyards.

Brotman says the combination of interior and exterior glazing ensures that occupants are “always exposed in nature pretty much everywhere you are,” but also that it allows views to see who is coming and going.

The optimization of glass selection, sunshades and other glazing elements with energy efficiency in mind allowed the project to meet LEED Gold criteria; certification is still pending.

Security Measures

The school design was a major collaboration between the design team, construction teams and, most importantly, the community. In addition to Svigals + Partners’ security consultant, the planning team included a school-based security committee, which Brotman says is now mandated for Connecticut schools. The committee includes school personnel, first responders and community members.

Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners
Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners

All of these parties collaborated to determine security measures that would be put in place, namely where security glazing would be implemented. Both the architect and glazing contractor say the school used the most security glazing either party had ever seen in a project they’ve worked on.

Much of the glass applications in the building consist of security glazing supplied by School Guard Glass (SGG). “It’s an amazing product that goes a long way in fulfilling our security goals—to deter, detect, delay and protect,” says Brotman. He says the glazing underwent stringent testing based on the application and framing systems used. “They had quantitative results that the product performed as they proposed,” he says.

Brotman adds that the difference between the security glazing and non-security glazing used in the project is indistinguishable, “which we think is extremely successful.” In addition to the glass makeup, many other security considerations were made in the design, including orientation and how access to the entrances are controlled by the landscape.

The Glazier’s Work

According to Doug Jacobik, owner of local contract glazier Accurate Door and Window, the project encompasses nearly 250 windows, approximately 10,000 square feet of curtainwall, 4,000 square feet of panels, 4,000 square feet of interior storefront glazing and more than 50 doors. It was the company’s largest project to date. In addition to SGG, suppliers for the glass and glazing systems used included Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, LTI, EFCO and Action Bullet.

Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners
Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners

Aside from the security aspects, Jacobik says much of the interior glass incorporated sound attenuation, and the exterior of the building had unique applications of vertical sunshades, panels and a variation of colors.

Jacobik says the Sandy Hook School was a very important project for his company.

“We knew what it meant to the community, and in seeing the overall design, it’s something we had a good feeling about being involved in,” he says. “The architect had a really good sense of what they wanted to do, and we knew it would have a good outcome with the community.”

Jacobik adds that he always understood the significance of the project in building the school to “show the resilience of the community and the desire for people to keep moving forward.” However, he was given a big reminder at the end of July, when dozens of media outlets—some from different parts of the world—showed up for a “media day” event to view the new building and hear from the project team.

“Sandy Hook will have a quiet, respectful, and appropriate opening as teachers and students return to the new school year,” Superintendent Joseph Erardi said in a statement at the time. “The transition to the new school needs to be as seamless as possible for the children. That is why we are setting up this day; and therefore, asking everyone to give us the space we need to allow high quality teaching and learning when we return for our first day of school.”

Jacobik was on vacation at the time. “I was looking it up online and seeing coverage from media outlets from the UK and other places around the world,” he says. “Sometimes you lose sight of the national and international meaning of this job because you live and work here every day. But when you see so many people show up, it really shows the importance of this project.”